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Inspiring Student: From Homeless Janitor to Harvard
Here is another inspiring true story of a teen who succeeded in obtaining consistent straight As & is going to Harvard after college inspite of her hardship & being abandoned by her family. She had to work as a janitor at her high school and was almost taken away by the Department of Social Services had it not being for caring teachers and villagers.
There's a video below and a long writeup on her.
Share this with fellow teachers and especially students!
This would be a good extensive reading for your students as well.
As an extension activity, discuss what are the possible reasons Harvard had accepted her in advance.
What can students do to be accepted for a full scholarship admission into their dream university? This could also be a writing activity as well.
Enjoy and be inspired!
Rodney Tan Chai Whatt
scrubbing floors to Ivy League Homeless student to go to dream college
Loggins, 18, was abandoned last year and left homeless
at Burns High School in North Carolina chipped in to help
applied to 5 colleges and was accepted to each, including her dream school
worked as school janitor between her studies to make ends meet
Lawndale, North Carolina (CNN) --
It's before sunrise, and the janitor at Burns High School has already been down
the length of a hallway, cleaning and sweeping classrooms before the day
This particular janitor is
painstakingly methodical, even as she administers a mental quiz on an upcoming
test. Her name is Dawn Loggins, a straight-A senior at the very school she
On this day, she maneuvers a
long-handled push broom between rows of desks. She stops to pick up a hardened,
chewed piece of gum. "This annoys me, because there's a trash can right
here," she says.
The worst, she says, is snuff
cans in urinals. "It's just rude and pointless."
With her long, straight dark
blonde hair and black-rimmed glasses, Dawn looks a bit like Avril Lavigne. But
her life is a far cry from that of a privileged pop star.
She was homeless at the start of
the school year, abandoned by her drug-abusing parents. The teachers and others
in town pitched in -- donating clothes and providing medical and dental care.
She got the janitorial job through a school workforce assistance program.
She's grateful for the work. But
it's where she's going next, beyond the walls of Burns, that excites her most. She applied to four
colleges within North Carolina and one dream university. She'll graduate soon
before heading off, leaving her dust pan behind.
Dawn Loggins has worked as a janitor her senior year to
make ends meet.
For now, there's still work to be
done. She stops for a quick bite to eat in the custodial closet amid Pine-Sol and
Clorox. She then darts to classes -- three advanced placement courses and an
Dawn grew up in a ramshackle home
with no electricity and no running water. She often went days, even weeks
without showering. She and her brother Shane -- who was equally studious in his
schoolwork -- would walk 20 minutes to a public park to fetch water.
"We would get water jugs and
fill them up at the park, using the spigots in the bathroom. And we would use
that to flush the toilet or cook with. Stuff like that," she says.
She confided in a staff member at
school. She had trouble doing homework at nighttime because her home had no
electricity and she couldn't afford candles. It was difficult to read in the
"OK, we'll get you some
candles. We'll take care of that," said Junie Barrett, Dawn's supervisor.
Another time, Barrett says, Dawn
and her brother asked if they could use the school's washing machine to clean
their clothes. "I said, 'Just leave them with me. We'll get them washed,
dried,' " Barrett recalls.
"We let them use our shower
facilities in the locker rooms because they had no running water. They had
nothing to bathe in."
Burns High was their fourth high
school since middle school, as they moved from town to town. Living the life of
a rolling stone, the two had missed several months' worth of classwork when
they first arrived two years ago, putting them well behind other students'
Shane was outgoing, but Dawn
always appeared more reserved.
Guidance counselor Robyn Putnam
saw the potential in Dawn and Shane early on and enrolled them in online
classes to get them caught up. The work paid off.
Abandoned by parents
Last summer, Dawn was invited to
attend a prestigious six-week residential summer program, the Governor's School
of North Carolina, at Meredith College in Raleigh, 200 miles east of Lawndale,
to study natural science. It was a field Dawn had never studied before.
The program is reserved for the
state's top students.
Putnam ferried Dawn to Raleigh to
attend the elite program and took her shopping, making sure she had the clothes
she needed. Other faculty members contributed funds, too.
Putnam worried Dawn's home
situation could worsen while she was away. "We weren't even sure where her
parents were at that time. And there was an eviction notice on the house,"
she says. "We kept telling her to get everything she could; we knew this
was a possibility."
Dawn saw her parents for 30
minutes during the middle of the summer program during a short break. They
talked about her school and how she was doing. Nothing seemed out of the
ordinary. "It was just a regular conversation," she says.
She wouldn't hear from them again
As she prepared to leave the
summer program, she kept calling her parents' phone, only to learn it had been
disconnected. Putnam picked her up and brought her back to Lawndale.
"When I returned, my
grandmother had been dropped off at a local homeless shelter, my brother had
just left, and my parents had just gone," she says. "I found out
later they had moved to Tennessee."
Her voice is steady, matter of
fact. "I never expected my parents to just, like, leave."
Dawn was abandoned.
"I'm not mad at my parents.
My mom and my stepdad both think that they did what was best for me," she
Dawn Loggins maintained an
A-average despite her hardships.
In fact, she used her parents'
example to drive her. "I just realize that they have their own problems
that they need to work through," she says. "They do love me; I know
they love me. They just don't show it in a way that most people would see as
Stability in Lawndale
For a while, Dawn lived on the
odd couch at friends' homes, while she figured out what to do. Sometimes, she
slept on the floor. The only thing that was clear was that she wanted to stay
in Lawndale, where she was active in extracurricular activities, had a
boyfriend and had a job.
Her classmates there didn't make
fun of her, though she had been mercilessly mocked in middle school. "It
was the worst. That's when I would come home crying because the teasing was so
bad," Dawn recalled.
For those wanting to help, Dawn
appreciates the generosity. She wants to use funds to form a nonprofit
organization to help other homeless children. Any contributions can be sent to:
Burns High School/Dawn Loggins Fund, 307 East Stagecoach Trail, Lawndale, NC
She had lived with her
grandmother until she was 12 and attended junior high at a school about an hour
away from Lawndale during that time.
"My grandma loved me, and
she taught me a lot. She had lots of crafts around and watched History Channel
with us. But ..."
Dawn's voice halts, then begins
again a few seconds later. "She never really explained to me and my
brother the importance of bathing regularly. And our house was really
disgusting. We had cockroaches everywhere. And we had trash piled literally 2 feet
high. We'd have to step over it to get anywhere in the house."
Dawn would go without showering
two to three months at a time and wear the same dress to school for weeks
straight. "When I was little, it seemed normal to me. I didn't realize
that other families weren't living the same way that I was. And because of that
I got teased, the kids would call me dirty."
In Lawndale, a town of about 600
in the Appalachian foothills of western North Carolina, things were different.
Dawn felt comfortable.
With her parents gone, she
processed the options with her guidance counselor.
She could move yet again to
Tennessee to be with her mother, or she could be turned over to the Department
of Social Services. Putnam feared what that might bring. "If Dawn were to
go into the system, she could be uprooted again and moved around," she
Dawn would turn 18 during the
second semester, Putnam knew, making her an adult by law. So Putnam asked Dawn:
"What do you want to do? She said, 'I want to graduate from Burns. To be in
the same school two years.' "
So the community and Burns staff
became her family.
Sheryl Kolton, a custodian and
bus driver for Burns Middle School, had met Dawn before and knew her but not
well. She wasn't expecting the phone call she received. "The counselor at
the high school just called me one day and asked me if Dawn could come live
here," Kolton says.
A few days later, she and her
husband, Norm, agreed.
Shooting for the stars
With a roof over her head and the
contributions of Burns staff to supplement the Koltons' income needed to house
and feed a growing teenager, Dawn was seemingly in a stable environment. She
admits that having her parents out of the picture helped.
"Honestly it was kind of a
relief," she says. "I mean, I have a place to stay, and I have a job,
and I'm going to school."
As she began her senior year,
Dawn turned her laser-beam focus to her future: college. She knew she wanted a
different path than her parents.
"When I was
younger, I was able to look at all the bad choices -- at the neglect, and the
drug abuse, and everything that was happening -- and make a decision for myself
that I was not going to end up like my parents, living from paycheck to
A straight-A student, Dawn was
president of the photography club. She also had started a community service
program collecting thousands of letters for active military troops and was
involved in National Honor Society and band club. Before she took her custodian
job, she ran cross country.
She wasn't top of her class, and
she didn't have a perfect GPA, but she was smart. On paper, she had always
"I was looking at her
transcript, and one of the lowest grades on her transcript is a 94 and that was
for a class called Success 101, and the irony of that is just really amazing,"
Putnam says with a laugh.
Dawn Loggins says the worst thing about cleaning is snuff
cans in urinals.
Dawn applied to four colleges
within the state: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; North
Carolina State University; Davidson College; and Warren Wilson College. In
December, she sent one final application off in the mail, to her
reach-for-the-stars choice, Harvard.
No one from Burns High had been
accepted to the elite Ivy League school.
"I thought about it and just
figured, 'Why not?' "
She asked her history teacher,
Larry Gardner, for a recommendation letter. "I don't know how many times I
started that letter of recommendation," he recalls. "Because how do
you articulate her story into two pages? How do you explain this is a young
lady who deserves a chance but hasn't had the opportunities?"
But after a prayer for wisdom,
the words flowed.
"Once again, words fail me
as I attempt to write this letter of recommendation," Gardner began.
"I can promise I've never written one like this before and will probably
not write one like this again. Because most students who face challenges that
are not even remotely as difficult as Dawn's give up. This young lady has,
unlike most of us, known hunger. She's known abuse and neglect, she's known
homelessness and filth. Yet she's risen above it all to become such an
outstanding young lady."
Months passed. She was accepted
to the four schools in North Carolina. Each time, the acceptance letter came as
part of a thick package with fat brochures and congratulatory notes.
Days went by. Nothing from
But on a sunny day earlier this
year, she came inside after tending the garden. There was a letter from
Harvard, the type of letter every high school senior dreads from a university
-- a regular-sized envelope, the ominous sign of rejection.
Cautiously, she opened it:
"Dear Ms. Loggins, I'm delighted to report that the admissions committee
has asked me to inform you that you will be admitted to the Harvard College
class of 2016. ... We send such an early positive indication only to
outstanding applicants ..."
She gasped when she read those
Gardner had the same reaction
when she handed him the note at school the next day. "I just looked up at
her, and kind of teared up because this is a young lady who ... " he
stops, his voice breaking.
"When I first met her and
had her brother in class, they were living in a home without electricity,
without running water, they were showering at a local park in a restroom after
most of the people at the park had left. This is a young lady who's been
through so much and for her to receive this letter -- pretty awesome."
Not only was Dawn accepted to
Harvard, she got a full ride. She was offered tuition, room and board, as well
as assistance finding an on-campus job.
The tiny town of Lawndale rallied
around Dawn again. They raised money to get her to Boston so she could see the
school in person in April.
"We in a sense had a
collective responsibility to get her to Harvard," says Aaron Allen, Burns
High principal. "Even though Harvard was going to pay for Dawn to go on
her own, this is a girl who's had multiple moves, never flown, never ridden a
subway, never really been outside small town USA, North Carolina foothills, and
you're expecting her to go to Cambridge all by herself?"
Barrett, her custodial
supervisor, traveled to Cambridge with her. "When we went up there, it was
just like she was at home. She will succeed, and she will excel."
For Dawn, it wasn't a foregone
conclusion that she would attend, but her inaugural visit solidified the
decision. "I just could not picture myself anywhere else, at any other
Since Dawn's story has come out,
she's attracted attention worldwide from well-wishers sending her everything
from simple encouragement to monetary donations.
Dawn doesn't want the money.
"When I get to college, I can work for what I need. And I know my future
is going to be great."
She hopes to start a nonprofit
organization to help other teens who've had obstacles in their educations,
using the funds that have been sent to her. There are more than 200 students
listed as homeless in Cleveland County, where Lawndale is located.
"There are so many kids
whose futures aren't so sure, and they need help more than I do," she
says. "I want them to be able to use my story as motivation. And I want
the general public to realize that there are so many kids who need help."
The final pages of Dawn's high
school chapter are nearing a close. She will walk across the stage today --
June 7 -- to accept her diploma. She has invited her parents but isn't sure
they will be able to attend. "If they're not there, it would be for good
But the one person she will look
for in the crowd is her brother Shane.
"Throughout the years, no
matter where I've been or been through, he's always been there for me,"
she says, with a rare ghost of a smile.
Shane will attend Berea College
in Kentucky on a scholarship.
Dawn has learned the sort of
lessons that can't be learned in school. "I love my parents. I disagree
with the choices that they've made. But we all have to live with the
consequences of our actions," she said.
She takes it all in stride.
"If I had not had those experiences, I wouldn't be such a strong-willed or